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Tuesday, 7 September 1993
Page: 1130

Senator BROWNHILL (Deputy Leader of the National Party of Australia) (11.27 p.m.) —Today in question time I missed an opportunity to bring to the attention of the Senate comments made by Senator Richardson, the Australian Labor Party's eminence grise and senior powerbroker. In the recent ABC docudrama Labor in Power there is a scene which the ABC has chosen to run many times since it was first screened. It shows Senator Richardson saying, `Keating now has more power than Hawke ever dreamed of'. Given the events of the past two weeks, unprecedented in the history of government in this country, I doubt that Bob Hawke would ever have wished for such power.

  Let us examine the magnitude of the power of the Prime Minister (Mr Keating). He produces a budget that does not even make it past his own backbench; his own faction disowns it. The ACTU's Martin Ferguson is quoted as saying, only hours after the budget's delivery, `How can you defend the indefensible?'. Even the husband of a new Labor backbencher, himself a powerful Labor and union figure, Michael Easson, is quoted as saying, `It's an act of bastardry'. He originally applied that comment to retrospective full taxation of lump sum and long service leave payments, but he was happy to have the media extend it over the whole of the budget.

  We had the rather desperate situation of the few remaining true believers peddling, a little unconvincingly, the `good news' budget story. That is what they were saying back in their electorates. They must have felt like the proverbial pork seller in the synagogue. They came back to Canberra and told their leader what they thought—and, by all accounts, it was a ripper of a telling. Chapter and verse, the Prime Minister and the cabinet got the message. In the face of this, we have Senator Richardson saying that the leadership and the cabinet have been given a sharp jolt and that he was confident they would consult more as a result.

  I ask honourable senators: will this expanded consultation process include listening to the concerns of the small winegrowers who, with the imposition of an increased sales tax, will be forced out of business? Will this expanded consultation process include listening to the concerns of woolgrowers who have demonstrated unambiguously that they cannot afford any increase in government taxes or levies by leaving the industry? Will this expanded consultation process include listening to the concerns of the leaded petrol users and the diesel users in rural areas who will not only have to pay the additional levy but in most rural towns will be paying up to 20c a litre more than their city counterparts? I suppose the government will consult. It has been told by its ACTU controllers that it must consult. But I wonder whether it will just be consulting more with the ACTU.

  For good measure, we have the ACTU throwing in a few cabinet agenda items. But that will not silence the restless back bench and it will not put them back on the boat. The Prime Minister said that he was alone on the deck before the election. That is one thing that has not changed. Captain Courageous will go down with his ship. I think the budget has changed more times in the last week or so than the members of the cabinet have changed their underpants. The Prime Minister is still alone on the deck of the ship and even his own faction has ratted on him.